Cook Safe and Healthy Meals with These Food Safety Tips

No matter what your age (or how small your New York apartment kitchen might be) cooking a delicious, healthy meal can be its own reward.  For many members of the SelectCare community, spending time in the kitchen with their home health aide can be a fun bonding activity.

While we are never too old to experience the joys of cooking, we are also never too old to remember the rules for running a clean, safe kitchen.  In observation of September as food safety month, we want to remind our community of some important food safety tips below!

Hand Washing – Before cooking and after handling raw food, it is important to stop and wash your hands.  When using hot water and soap, be sure to scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds, getting your palms, fingers, tops of your hands and between your fingers to avoid spreading germs. 

2-Hour Rule – never leave cooked food or leftovers out for more than 2 hours.  Be sure to wrap them up and refrigerate or freeze them, as harmful bacteria grow fastest in room temperature food.

Safely Thaw Frozen Food – Never thaw frozen food by leaving it out on a counter, as the risk for bacterial growth increases the longer it is left out. Instead, be patient and only thaw frozen food in your refrigerator.

 Avoid Under-cooked Food – Cold food isn’t just unappetizing, it’s also unhealthy!  Try to always check the temperature of food (especially meat) with a clean thermometer to ensure it is properly cooked.  Below is a table with minimum temperatures a food must reach to be safe:

Keep Cutting Tools Clean – Sharp knives and cutting boards used for preparing raw meat are some of the most common sources of food contamination in a kitchen. Be sure to thoroughly wash knives AND cutting boards after preparing raw meat.  A simple sanitizing solution can be made with 2/3rds cup of bleach mixed into 1 gallon of water.  This solution can be put in a spray bottle for easy application.

Raw Food – Try to use a single cutting board, utensil and plate for raw meats and be sure to clean these items thoroughly.  Plates that have come in contact with raw food should NEVER be reused without washing, as the liquids from raw food can cause cross contamination of cooked food.

Use Your Senses – Most cooks have a list of recipes they like to follow, in part because they know what the end product should look like. If you are cooking an old favorite, but something does not look, smell or feel right, it is best to err on the side of caution and double check that all your ingredients were cooked properly and nothing has spoiled.  It’s terrible to waste food, but your stomach will thank you!

Safe Storage – Try to organize your refrigerator to avoid cross contamination. Stock raw food at the bottom of your fridge, cooked meats above, then produce and finally ready to eat foods on top.  This arrangement means raw food will not drip onto other foods, and keeps your ready to eat food (things that do not need cooking) as far from them as possible.

Marinate Mindfully –  Just like thawing food, Marinating food should be stored in a refrigerator, rather than a countertop.  Temperature will not affect the speed a food absorbs marinate, but the flavors being added could cover the taste of spoiled food if left out for too long.  Also be sure to not reuse marinades, as their prior exposure to raw food heightens the chance of contamination.

Replace towels and sponges – Towels, sponges and other cleaning supplies absorb a lot of different liquids and materials during the prep, cooking and cleanup process.  Be sure to replace visibly dirty sponges and towels regularly and use a paper towel to dry your hands after washing.  Even if a sponge doesn’t look dirty, try changing them out every week to stay safe.

SelectCare hopes our community finds these food safety tips helpful as they work on their next culinary creation.  If you or a loved one are experiencing challenges while trying to cook, clean or complete any other household tasks, now might be the time to contact SelectCare or request a Free In-Home Care Guide.  Our team has helped New Yorkers live happier, healthier lives in the comfort of their long-time homes for more than 30 years.